The food, the booze, the loud clothing and even louder cheers no party in South Carolina comes close to the frenzy around USC and Clemson football games.
People who move to the Southeast from other parts of the country are amazed. After all, folks in the Midwest dont spend more on an old railroad caboose than their own home just so they can show off to friends seven times a year. Doctors and lawyers on the Pacific coast dont dress in orange overalls and drive orange vehicles hundreds of miles to cheer an orange-clad football team as it runs down a hill.
In South Carolina, we do both. Or actually, lots of folks do one or the other.
The cabooses, called Cockabooses, are the most distinctive of the many upscale USC tailgate alternatives. Meanwhile, the northwest corner of the state probably has an orange tint when viewed from space during Clemson home games.
People who have lived here awhile know all of this and have been preparing for Saturdays home openers at each school for the past six months. If youre new around these parts, here are a few tailgating tips:
• Arrive early. The streets are packed leading up to both stadiums in the final hours before game time. Plus, getting there early leaves more time for pre-game fun.
• Parking spots are at a premium. People pay thousands of dollars a year for prime spots. While you might be lucky enough to find a non-reserved spot within a mile or two of either stadium, its a good idea to take a shuttle bus or carpool with a friend who has a reserved spot.
• Bring food. You could just walk around the parking lots and mooch off others; people are that friendly during the peak tailgate hours immediately before and after games. But show some class and contribute to the massive buffet. If nothing else, a small cooler of drinks is always appreciated.
• You dont have to have tickets, or even go to the game. For every game except when USC and Clemson play each other, you can find plenty of people selling tickets in the parking lots. For less popular games, you might find tickets below face value as kickoff time approaches. While the stadium atmosphere at both places is electric, you can get some of the feel just staying in the parking lots during games, especially if you find someone watching on a wide-screen TV hooked up to a satellite and a generator.
For a more low-key tailgate experience, try one of the other football-playing schools in the state. Furmans stadium near Greenville is surrounded by mountains, making it especially colorful for early November games when the leaves are changing. The military presence is unique at The Citadel in Charleston. And few fans put out a better food spread than those at S.C. State in Orangeburg.